In a case with significant First Amendment implications, the U.S. filed new charges Thursday against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, accusing him of violating the Espionage Act by publishing secret documents containing the names of confidential military and diplomatic sources. The Justice Department’s 18-count superseding indictment alleges that Julian Assange directed former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history. It says the WikiLeaks founder, currently in custody in London, damaged national security by publishing documents that harmed the U.S. and its allies and aided its adversaries. The case comes amid a Justice Department crackdown on national security leaks and raised immediate fear among news media advocates that Assange’s actions — including soliciting and publishing classified information — are indistinguishable from what traditional journalists do on a daily basis. Those same concerns led the Obama administration Justice Department to balk at bringing charges for similar conduct. Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, said Thursday that the “unprecedented charges” against his client imperil “all journalists in their endeavor to inform the public about actions that have been taken by the U.S. government.” The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press called the case a “dire threat” to media freedom, and the American Civil Liberties Union said it was the first time in history a publisher was charged for disclosing truthful information. But Justice Department officials sought to make clear that they believed Assange’s actions weren’t protected under the law, though they declined to discuss the
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in jail by a London court on Wednesday for skipping bail to enter the Ecuadorean embassy where he was holed up for almost seven years until police dragged him out last month.
Judge Deborah Taylor read out the sentence as Assange, in a black jacket and grey sweatshirt, looked on. Taylor said Assange had exploited his privileged position to flout the law and express his disdain for British justice.
He was convicted last month of skipping bail in June 2012 after an extradition order to Sweden over an allegation of rape. The maximum sentence was a year in jail.
“You remained there for nearly seven years, exploiting your privileged position to flout the law and advertise internationally your disdain for the law of this country,” Judge Taylor said at Southwark Crown Court.
Ecuador in 2017 gave Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a diplomatic post in Russia but rescinded it after Britain refused to give him diplomatic immunity, according to an Ecuadorean government document. “Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats.